The Kitchigami Regional Library System’s (KRLS) Mobile Library, established since 1966 as part of the Cass County Library, will end operations in December 2014 as the library explores new programs to create outreach to areas across five counties.
Marian Ridge, KRLS director, said the current model of the Mobile Library is unsustainable.
“The vehicle is expensive,” she said. “It is expensive to operate, requires the necessary license and library assistant, and is easily affected by the weather.”
Val McCormic, library assistant II who staffs the Mobile Library, said the vehicle had two major breakdowns that caused the vehicle to be out for more than two weeks.
The Mobile Library stops once or twice a month in area cities, including Hackensack and Nisswa. Service in Breezy Point and Emily recently stopped because of a lack in county funding and because they were too close to Pequot Lakes and Crosslake, which operate community libraries that offer access to KRLS services.
Other cities, like Pillager and Akeley, which once had stops, were no longer serviced because of too few borrowers.
KRLS board members started discussing the possibility of ending the Mobile Library five years ago, Ridge said.
“The board held onto the Mobile Library as long as it could,” she said. “We’ve been trying desperately for the last three years to keep it in service. We realized late last year, there were no financial models that would allow us to continue it.”
KRLS board members are now looking into testing pilot projects in the areas currently served by the Mobile Library, like bi-weekly stops with a van to unload materials for the public to check out and request materials.
“We would use a location in the town to provide our services,” said Ridge. “Another possibility is a grant-funded model that will use enhanced electronic services. We will have a mix of those three projects to see if that helps serve the public better.”
Ridge believes that by November 2014, the KRLS will find the best replacement of the bookmobile, which she does not see coming back into service.
“I don’t see any chance that we will operate the Mobile Library in the future,” she said. “The vehicle will eventually be sold.”
Ridge acknowledges there will be people affected, like reduced hours for the driver of the Mobile Library, Ron Tillson, who has been driving the Mobile Library for seven years. He is concerned about the patrons who depend on the van, like Merrily Osburnsen of Hackensack, who visits the Mobile Library with her grandchildren when it comes into town.
“It’s a wonderful thing we have,” Osburnsen said. “We don’t have to go to Walker or Pine River for books. We’ll miss it.”
Tillson knows of patrons who are far away from a traditional library and rely on the Mobile Library.
“Some people would have up to a 60-mile trip to a library,” he said. “It can be tough on them.”
As the Mobile Library is phased out, a lack of county funding can reduce the number of bookmobile stops, Ridge said.
“Crow Wing County has decreased its levy to KRLS each year since 2011,” she said. “We reduced our services in Brainerd and ended our stops in Emily and Breezy Point at the end of June to reduce costs.”
She also believes it is time for change.
“The board is still committed to serving small towns,” she said. “It’s time to embrace the future.”